Weeks Twenty Two to Twenty Four: I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem



It would be easy for a book set during the Salem Witch Trials to disintegrate into yet another western racial pastiche where the character of Tituba remains a culturally unimportant shadow in the background of a privileged white morality play.  Yet in the strong, capable hands of French (Guadoluopean) author Maryse Condé, Tituba at last has had her day.

In her short novel, I,Tituba, Black Witch of Salem (1986) Condé traces the life journey of the young, delightfully human Tituba. Tituba was conceived from rape (aboard a vessel ironically named Christ the King) and she takes us right up through the end of her life, breathing fresh life, memorable as apotheosis,  into a character whose story was long overdue to be told.

Condé’s novels often raise racial, gender and cultural issues in a variety of historical eras and locales. She explores, for example,  the 19th-century Bambara Empire of Mali in Segu (1980); and the 20th-century building of the Panama Canal and its influence on increasing the West Indian middle class in The Tree of Life (1992).¹

I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem, is equally captivating.

Tituba, who possesses the skill and visions of a healer, is biracial. Born on Barbados to a young African slave woman, Abena, and a loving gentle giant named Yao, Tituba eventually becomes a maroon, having no owner, but an outsider to society. She’s taken under the wing of an herbalist named Mama Yaya, learning about traditional healing methods; then falls in love and marries a slave, John Indian, willing to return to slavery on his behalf. Mortal unions with men are to become a weakness of Tituba’s, throughout the story.



rendering of a Barbados sugar plantation


Soon after, Tituba and John Indian are sold to Samuel Parris, the Puritan who takes Tituba and John Indian to Boston, then to Salem Village, where Tituba is accused of witchcraft and arrested. Tituba shares a prison cell with a pregnant Hester Prynne, the heroine from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter (Prynne also receives a bit of a feminist makeover.)²

Tituba’s story also includes a relationship with a Jewish merchant, Benjamin Cohen d’Azevedo, and raises issues of shared cultural disenfranchisement and the commonality of oppression.

Condé’s narrative employs elements of traditional storytelling to provide tales within tales, magical as double yolks within eggs, resulting in an extremely well-narrated  depiction of Tituba as a larger-than-life yet supremely human protagonist; flawed and as likeable as anyone who has been marginalized and has had to fight to survive. The inclusion of a trinity of spiritual presences, namely Mama Yaya, Yao and Abena, her mother, serve as a sort of often-appearing chorus of the ego, advising and often chiding the very human Tituba as she navigates the racist and misogynist zeitgeist of the 1600’s.

Recently The Wonderlings Reading and Discussion Group voted to read I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem.

Condé’s  book is actually the longest work the group has ever read together, and they did a smashing job! A tight core group of readers explored many aspects of the work, including narrative, voice, character development, analysis of passages they felt were brilliant or needing form, as well as history, study of the atrocities of life on a sugar plantation, and waves of feminism which either did, or did not, apply to Tituba.

I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem was published in 1986. It would go on to receive the French Grand Prix award for women’s literature.


Although recovering from a fractured ankle, the author was quite gracious in answering several of our member’s questions about I, Tituba. Here are her responses, which were very kindly sent by the translator of the book, Richard Philcox.

She wrote;

Dear Celeste Schantz,

Life has got just a little bit complicated as I have fractured my ankle and my husband will type my answers to your questions.

We greatly appreciate how gracious the author was,  to provide these responses.


A Wonderlings Interview with Maryse Condé . . .


TW: You received your PhD in Caribbean literature at the Sorbonne in 1965, what is the title of your dissertation? (PS: Thank you, thank you for your generosity in taking part in our group!) –Rick Williams

MC: The title of my thesis at the Sorbonne in 1975 was “Stereotype of Black Characters in Caribbean Literature.”

TW: There is a vast chasm going back thousands of years between the culture and history of the African peoples and the white people from Western Europe that settled this country. Taking into consideration your personal experiences with racism, do you think there is any solution to the racist problem that presently exists in the US? – Jeri Harbers Thomson

MC: I am not a specialist of racism in the US but I do believe that in spite of the prevalent ideas, racism will die and humanity will become one. Maybe that is a dream, but it is mine.

TW: Within the book you use the heralding “crick, crack!” –the traditional opening used by a West Indian storyteller in front of an audience. It seems to say; “Now, listen! I’m about to tell you a fantastic tale!” Can you elaborate on the use of this device when writing/telling Tituba’s stories? As a proclamation that we as readers are about to hear something fantastic? I loved these passages; they were among the most excellent in the book, because they contain archetypes and dreams and folk tale elements, and the reader or audience member is wondering what is tangible and what is spiritual. I’d love for you to tell a bit about your use of that story opening, “crick, crack!” – Celeste Helene Schantz

MC:  Every writer is jealous of the storyteller. There is in the spoken word a spontaneity that writing brings to an end. I wanted to remind my readers that I belong to a society where oral traditions are still alive, that my words convey a magical power and that my story can be seen as a wonderful filter for emotions and knowledge. I was trying to say that people belonging to my part of the world do not simply write, they retain the power to influence deeply the minds of their listeners.

Tituba and Mary Walcott, illustration by John W. Ehninger

Tituba and Mary Walcott, illustration by John W. Ehninger Date 1902 Source “Giles Corey of the Salem Farms” (1868), in The Complete Poetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Boston, Houghton, 1902


TW:  What did use of the spirit world bring to your story? When in the trance of writing, how did the exchanges come out from the “other world?” Did you write these and let them stand or revise the exchanges? How has this book shaped your later views on other writings/life? –David Delaney

MC:  A writer is a dreamer. A book is the fruit of her imagination, complex and full of diverse ideas. There is a magical relationship between Tituba and me; One day when I was searching for books at the UCLA library, Ann Petry’s book on Tituba fell into my hands. That is how I got to know the story of the Salem witch trials. That bond between Tituba and me has never been found again in my writing.

TW: I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem was written in 1986, a time when women’s spirituality, particularly reclaiming witchcraft and goddess lore, was being articulated. Was Tituba’s spirituality, as well as being historically relevant, part of the parody of feminism, or more a depiction of a healthy relationship with spirit which we could emulate today? – Anna Schantz

MC: I Tituba as a book is a parody. I went to the extent of meeting with a real witch in Los Angeles who told me the secret of her art. For me there was a large part of humor in portraying Tituba who would not be taken too seriously. Her spirituality should not be taken as a model.

TW:  We appreciated the fact that you refrained from idealizing Tituba, and portrayed her fully, flaws and all, especially her perverse tendency to embrace exploitative situations to her own detriment. What was it about Tituba’s character that affected you most deeply?  -Shabnam Mirchandani

MC: In The Crucible by Arthur Miller Tituba has been portrayed as an unimportant, old Negress without any character, a shadow in the background. I wanted to give her a character of her own: young, attractive, fond of handsome men, not at all a role model. I suppose I was trying to make her human.

TW:  Do you think that some of your meaning or references to feminism/ parody are lost in translation? How involved are you in the translation process? –Jeri Harbers Thomson

MC: For me translation is another work entirely. My husband is a translator and I never interfere with his work. I never read his translations. They belong to him. If you would like to know more on this topic read the conversation we had between author and translator published in the book Intimate Enemies (Liverpool University Press.)

TW:  Are excellent writers born? Or are MFA programs in creative writing useful to hone our skills? Did you personally ever “study” creative writing or did you learn to write on your own through reading and learning from the craft of other authors? What is the most challenging aspect for you when writing a novel? What do you love? – Celeste Helene Schantz

MC: Creative writing programs are an invention of American universities. In the Francophone world we believe that the power to write is a gift which cannot be taught. My fondness for writing comes from my knowledge of literature from different parts of the world. It is by reading certain authors that I learned how to write and influence my readers. I have never studied otherwise. Reading for me is my master.

As for the writers I prefer, the list would be too long, but I make no difference between a Japanese writer, a French writer or an American: all of them can teach me their craft and bring me closer to what I want to achieve.

TW: Can you tell us about what you are working on now? (or at least give us a hint . . .?) –Susan Pigman

MC: I have just published a novel dealing with the major issue of terrorism. It’s called Le destin triste et fabuleux d’Ivan et Ivana, but it has not been translated yet into English. My autobiography of my years in Africa is about to be published by Seagull Press/University of Chicago as What is Africa to Me? True Fragments of an Autobiography. My husband is translating at the present time Of Morsels and Marvels, a travelogue of recipes and journeys throughout the world.


Best regards to all the Book Club members!

Maryse Condé



. . .A Bit About the Author . . .



Sandro Michaeless, BOMB Magazine


Born as Maryse Boucolon at Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, the author Maryse Conde’ was the youngest of eight children. After having graduated from high school, she would go on to attend the Sorbonne in Paris.

After graduating, she taught in Guinea, Ghana and Senegal. She returned to Paris, and in 1965 completed her PhD in Caribbean literature at the Sorbonne.

In 1985 Condé was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to teach in the US. She then became a professor of French and Francophone literature at Columbia University in New York City. In addition to her creative writing, Condé retired from Columbia University as Professor Emerita of French. She has also taught at the University of California, Berkeley; UCLA, the Sorbonne, The University of Virginia, and the University of Nanterre. She and her husband (Richard Philcox, the English-language translator of most of her novels) split their time between New York City and Guadeloupe.

About Windward Heights




Her novel Windward Heights (2008) is a reworking of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, which she had first read at the age of 14. She had long wanted to create a work around it, as an act of “homage.” Her novel is set in Guadeloupe, and race and culture are featured as issues that divide people  Reflecting on how she drew from her Caribbean background in writing this book, she said:

“To be part of so many worlds—part of the African world because of the African slaves, part of the European world because of the European education—is a kind of double entendre. You can use that in your own way and give sentences another meaning. I was so pleased when I was doing that work, because it was a game, a kind of perverse but joyful game.”³


About Crossing the Mangrove


“Conde writes elegantly in a style that beautifully survives translation from the French…[she] gives readers a flavor of the French and Creole stew that is the Guadeloupan tongue.  In so doing, Conde conveys the many subtle distinctions of color, class, and language that made up this society.”–Chicago Tribune



In this beautifully crafted, Rashomon-like novel, Maryse Conde has written a gripping story imbued with all the nuances and traditions of Caribbean culture. Francis Sancher–a handsome outsider, loved by some and reviled by others–is found dead, face down in the mud on a path outside Riviere au Sel, a small village in Guadeloupe.


None of the villagers are particularly surprised, since Sancher, a secretive and melancholy man, had often predicted an unnatural death for himself.  As the villagers come to pay their respects they each–either in a speech to the mourners, or in an internal monologue–reveal another piece of the mystery behind Sancher’s life and death.


Like pieces of an elaborate puzzle, their memories interlock to create a rich and intriguing portrait of a man and a community. In the lush and vivid prose for which she has become famous, Conde has constructed a Guadeloupean wake for Francis Sancher.  Retaining the full color and vibrance of Conde’s homeland, Crossing the Mangrove pays homage to Guadeloupe in both subject and structure.

Maryse Condé’s works go well beyond historical fiction.

Among her plays are: An tan revolisyon, published in 1991, first performed in Guadeloupe in 1989; Comedie d’Amour, first performed in Guadeloupe in 1993; Dieu nous l’a donné, published in 1972, first performed in Paris in 1973; La mort d’Oluwemi d’Ajumako, published in 1973, first performed in 1974 in Gabon; Le morne de Massabielle, first version staged in 1974 in Puteaux (France), later staged in English in New York as The Hills of Massabielle (1991); Pension les Alizes, published in 1988, first staged in Guadeloupe and subsequently staged in New York as Tropical Breeze Hotel (1995); Les sept voyages de Ti Noel (written in collaboration with José Jernidier), first performed in Guadeloupe in 1987.

Prolific, refreshingly honest, and an excellent writer who deserves great praise and place in any canon of world literature . . .Maryse Condé is all of these things.


Also check out this 52-minute documentary, Maryse Condé : Une voix singulière       (with subtitles) 





¹ Wikipedia

² ibid.
³ Rebecca Wolff, Interview: “Maryse Condé”, Bomb Magazine, Vol. 68, Summer 1999, accessed 27 April 2016.


Week Twenty One: Readings for the 4th of July


The faces of freedom: original daguerreotypes introduce us to veterans of The American Revolutionary War




George Fishley, a soldier in the Continental Army, known as “The Last of the Cocked Hats”


To begin a study of primary source materials of the American revolutionary War, check out these incredible daguerreotypes compiled by Utah-based journalist Joe Baumam, who spent three decades researching and compiling images of American Revolutionary War veterans.

Digging through a myriad of sources – 18th and 19th century battle accounts, muster rolls, genealogical records, pension files, letters, period newspapers, town and county histories – he was able to flesh out the stories of these veterans.

See the faces of the war veterans, here.



The “rough draft” and crossed out paragraph of The Declaration of Independence




Specific paragraphs on abolishing slavery were crossed out, primarily at the request from delegates who had dealings in the slave trade


This week we’ll be looking at some source materials related to United States independence and the American Revolutionary War.


Did you know . . .


. . .that there was an original draft of the Declaration of Independence?

In a letter to Timothy Pickering, dated 1822, John Adams, who had been an eyewitness, recollects the crossed-out paragraph in this famous document.

Find out what was crossed out, based on Adams letter. What would have been different, had the paragraph remained?

John Adams describes the writing of the Declaration of Independence, here.

This copy of the Declaration of Independence is significant not only for its historical importance, but also for the language it contains, which is different from the version that was eventually ratified on July 4, 1776. Notably, Jefferson’s copy includes a lengthy condemnation of the slave trade:


“he [the king of Great Britain] has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.”


But before the Declaration of Independence was ratified, this passage was removed; its excision was intended primarily to appease the delegates from Georgia and South Carolina.

It’s incredible to think that the so-oft quoted Declaration of Independence was actually written by a 33-year old who did not want the job; some of the document’s most eloquent and needed passages about freedom were removed purely to protect economic prosperity, in a war which was supposedly all about freedom from oppression.



Next up: meet Mary Katharine Goddard, female publisher!




Check out this link to a great story from The Washington Post:

Mary Katharine Goddard not only got the assignment from congress to publish official copies of The Declaration of Independence; “She was also quietly named the first female postmaster in the colonies in 1775, running the busy and crucial Baltimore Post Office as well as a bookstore, print shop and newspaper.”¹

Read Goddard’s story, here!




Then read a first-person eyewitness account of a continental army soldier who was at Valley Forge!



You’re looking at The Blue Book, which  remained the official guide to military training and maneuvers until it was replaced in 1812. Many of Von Steuben’s writings are still in use in today’s army manuals, such as FM 3-21.5 Drill and Ceremony. (photo from Army News Service)



Baron Von Steuben drilling American recruits at Valley Forge in 1778


The Chevalier de Pontgibaud was a wealthy but ne’er-do-well volunteer in the continental army. In his eyewitness account of life at Valley Forge, he tells us;


“Soon I came in sight of the camp. My imagination had pictured an army with uniforms, the glitter of arms, standards, etc., in short, military pomp of all sorts; Instead of the imposing spectacle I expected, I saw, grouped together or standing alone, a few militiamen, poorly clad, and for the most part without shoes – many of them badly armed, but all well supplied with provisions, and I noticed that tea and sugar formed part of their rations. I did not then know that this was not unusual, and I laughed, for it made me think of the recruiting sergeants on the Quai de la Ferraille at Paris, who say to the yokels, ‘You will want for nothing when you are in the regiment, but if bread should run short you must not mind eating cakes.’ Here the soldiers had tea and sugar.”



Hopefully these primary source materials, photographs and readings shed a more human and fallible light upon the sometimes deified men and women who fought for American independence.


As has often been said, the price of freedom is never free.




¹Dvorak, Petula, “This woman’s name appears on the Declaration of Independence. So why don’t we know her story?” The Washington Post 7/3/17

Week Twenty: “Coming Home Again” by Chang-rae Lee and “The Great Eaters of Georgia” by Carson McCullers





“Coming Home Again” by Chang-rae Lee


What purpose do food and travel writing serve, when an author is grieving?


Today’s piece focuses on author Chang-rae Lee’s preparation of traditional Korean family foods when his mother becomes very ill.

Not everyone is a master chef. Some of us hack and chop and frizzle away. The author’s frustration is, in fact, at his at his inability to understand and prepare the great traditional meal. It is an imperfect language, excavating Lee’s frustration and struggle to articulate that as a young son he didn’t appreciate her love, sacrifice and self-effacement in the face of his own hubris. The metaphor is that of food and trying to duplicate the family meal and in part, failing. The agony of that.

“I would enter the kitchen quietly and stand beside her, my chin lodging on the point of her hip.” “The bone fell away, though not completely” Then later, “careful not to dislodge the bones, I asked her why it was important that they remain connected.”

It may be useful to compare Lee’s piece with Momaday’s  “The Way to Rainy Mountain” and Hong Kingston’s “No Name Woman” in terms of the bones in the land; and that the chronology of events shifts back and forth via flashbacks yet all of the times are woven together to create, in the mind’s eye, that thing, that awareness, which had never been seen.
The final spectral image of the parents pulled over in the car and the son (in a different age) driving by and “seeing” them is the culminating image of his mourning. It is a synthesis.
It is not so much a piece about cooking as it is about coming to terms with the unfamiliar, death, (the tenor) in terms of the familiar, traditional Korean cooking (the vehicle).

The shadow-side failure at trying to say to someone, ” I love and respect you” through the preparation of a traditional meal for a mother, a child, who will not eat.

His clumsy, imperfect mourning via cooking to understand his stalwart mother’s impermanence.

Here is “Coming Home Again” by Chang-Rae Lee.

The piece was originally featured in The New Yorker Magazine, October 16, 1995.

Let us know what you think!




. . .A bit about Chang-rae Lee . . .


Chang-rae Lee

Chang-rae Lee by photographer Peter Murphy

Chang-rae Lee (born July 29, 1965) is a Korean American novelist and a professor of creative writing at Stanford University,.[1] He was previously Professor of Creative Writing at Princeton and director of Princeton’s Program in Creative Writing.

Lee was born in South Korea in 1965 to Young Yong and Inja Hong Lee. He emigrated to the United States with his family when he was 3 years old.

Lee’s first novel, Native Speaker (1995), won numerous awards including the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award.

Lee explores issues central to the Asian American experience: the legacy of the past; the encounter of diverse cultures; the challenges of racism and discrimination, and exclusion; dreams achieved and dreams deferred. In the process of developing and defining itself, then, Asian American literature speaks to the very heart of what it means to be American. The authors of this literature above all concern themselves with identity, with the question of becoming and being American, of being accepted, not “foreign.” Lee’s writings have addressed these questions of identity, exile and diaspora, assimilation, and alienation.¹



“The Great Eaters of Georgia” by Carson McCullers



A barbecue shack near Fort Benning, Columbus, Georgia, 1940. Photograph by Marion Post Wolcott (1910–1990) for the Farm Security Administration (Library of Congress)


By 1953 Carson McCullers’s dysfunctional marriage was at a breaking point. During a summer in Paris she and her husband were both drinking heavily, and Carson found out that Reeves had (once again) forged Carson’s name on checks. He attempted to kill himself and tried to talk Carson into committing suicide with him. She fled Paris alone and returned to the United States.

Around the same time, Holiday magazine had offered Carson McCullers fifteen hundred dollars to write a piece on Georgia where she returned in November to gather materials and memories.

While staying with friends McCullers learned that her husband had committed suicide in the Hôtel Chateau Frontenac on November 18.

Although her hosts initially urged her to remain at their home to recover from the shock, McCullers insisted on going to visit Hervey Cleckley, a friend who was also a psychiatrist. Cleckley, who was busy at work (with coauthor Corbett H. Thigpen) on his book The Three Faces of Eve, later told Carr that he and McCullers discussed his research in psychopathology and talked at length about Reeves’s suicide. Their conversations helped McCullers understand both her husband and their relationship, as she later described in her unfinished memoir:





McCullers (enduring what seems to be a rather uncomfortably close interview) about “The Member of The Wedding.” McCullers states that the basic premise of the play was just “to belong- to be a part of something; a part of life.” Perhaps this is also true of those who write about food and cultural tradition when they are grieving.



“Hervey Cleckley has written a masterful book called The Mask of Sanity, and in that book I could see Reeves mirrored. Psychopathic people are very often charming. They live on their charm, their good looks and the weaknesses of wives or mothers.”


McCullers finally returned to Nyack, NY at the end of November—and the next day The New York Times published her husband’s obituary, which suggested as a possible cause of death injuries suffered from a car accident several weeks before. Yet the actual cause was hardly a secret to the couple’s acquaintances and, amidst the deluge of calls and condolences, there seemed to be a palpable sense of relief among some of McCullers’s friends. Carr reports that the actress Helen Hayes, who also lived in Nyack, dropped by and told Carson’s mother, “I’m not going to say I’m sorry, Bebe, because I don’t think I am.”


McCullers soon returned to the task of writing the food article for Holiday, and she completed a version in early 1954. The events of the previous year surely explain the wistful and somewhat melancholy tone, and the essay was rejected because the magazine was “looking for a lighter, more descriptive, less personal piece.”²


Here is “The Great Eaters of Georgia” by Carson McCullers


McCullers at a gathering with Isak Dinesen, author of “Babette’s Feast,” Out of Africa, and many other works including gothic tales which pair nicely with a read of U.S. Southern Gothic.


McCullers’ bittersweet narration (recovering from her spouses’ suicide and reeling from a bitter marriage), evokes a longing. She discusses regional foods and all but also gets to the heart of longing; using the communal (or isolated) act of eating; of belonging or not belonging in a household, a family, a community. Of again, not the rosy magazine-slick travelogue her editors were expecting (this piece was ultimately rejected and was not published in Holiday Magazine) a much more meaningful exploration of cooking and dining as it expresses friendship, marriage, widowhood, isolation, etc. Again, the shadow side of the meal.

Consider an old man who has just lost his wife, slumped in a wheelchair, trying to “enjoy” a steak at a family picnic and not wanting to chat but doing his best to make pleasant small talk. The Vietnam Vet at a Christmas party. One is perhaps able to move past the facade of emotionless silence to sense a great chasm of grief which was inarticulate as both Lee and McCullers went through the motions of describing and preparing food. The beauty was not in the eloquence or grammar nor in the perfect execution of a meal (although McCullers seems much more master of that!) but in the simple recounting of how they could NOT function normally.

So often today we have celebrity chefs and Food TV gurus, who “Celebrate Holidays!” and take smiling to another extreme with “Today on our show: Traditional Foods!” . . .it’s all so flouride-whitened. Perhaps these pieces are the yin to that yang. The power in the taking in of nourishment but not the outward power of flawlessly preparing it. The clinging, barely, to the memory of fruit, the children’s treats, the holiday punch, as a rote attempt to return to normalcy and be nourished.

The foods and their memories and preparation become, perhaps, a sort of prayer for healing.


. . .A bit about Carson McCullers . . .



Carson McCullers by Henri Cartier Bresson

Carson McCullers (February 19, 1917 – September 29, 1967) was an American novelist, short story writer, playwright, essayist, and poet. Her first novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, explores the spiritual isolation of misfits and outcasts in a small town of the U.S. South. Her other novels have similar themes and most are set in the deep south.

McCullers’ oeuvre is often described as Southern Gothic and indicative of her southern roots. However, McCullers penned all of her work after leaving the South, and critics also describe her writing and eccentric characters as universal in scope. Her stories have been adapted to stage and film. A stagework of her novel The Member of the Wedding (1946), which captures a young girl’s feelings at her brother’s wedding, made a successful Broadway run in 1950–51.³







¹ Source: Wikipedia

²Summarized from The Library of America